Freelance cash flow is a problem for many writers. I’ve had questions about how much to charge, and how to get paid for your writing. Cash flow for writers comes up over and over again.
I gave you some good advice in this article, Write and Get Paid: How to Keep the Money Rolling In | Angela Booth’s Fab Freelance Writing Blog, and told this story:
“Years ago, an editor had the nerve to tell me: ‘But we’re a six billion dollar company, OF COURSE you’ll get paid!’ Huh — that six billion dollar company had blithely owed me $1800 for four months. Since the editor was disbursing the cash, I had no confidence I’d ever get paid, so I turned (politely) nasty. It didn’t help that on the day I spoke to him, I’d just had dental surgery and was in considerable pain — how much the company was worth was immaterial, and I told him so.”
Here’s what to do to avoid slow paying and no-paying clients.
1. Get paid up front
Times are tough. This means that publications and businesses like to stretch their cash. That’s fine, but make sure that your Terms of Service state when you’ll be paid: “payment is due on delivery of final draft; copyright devolves to your on final payment.”
It’s vital that you add: “copyright in the material I write for you devolves to you on payment in full.” This means that until you get paid, those words are yours. If you’re writing Web content, this means that you can get your content removed until the client pays you.
By “payment up front”, I mean get a deposit. Always, no exceptions. Occasionally a writer will say that clients are hesitant to pay up front. My response to that is simple: “If you enjoy working for free, go ahead.”
Yes, I know that some people say in their advertising for writers: “we don’t pay up front.”
That’s certainly their prerogative.
Your prerogative is to get paid up front.
To repeat… Always get a retainer — that is, a DEPOSIT. Here’s why. It shows intent. Your client knows who you are. If you’ve been selling your writing services, he knows you’re in business. Businesses have policies which ensure that they stay in business.
If I had a dollar for every writer who’s complained to me about vanishing clients, slow-paying clients, and no-paying clients, I could afford a six-month trip around the world, flying first class.
2. Be polite, always
Always, always, be your charming self. Always.
There’s nothing I need to add to that.
3. No payment? Become the squeakiest wheel
No payment? If your TOS says that you’re paid on delivery of the final draft, send a reminder seven days later. Yes, SEVEN days. Just add a task to your calendar, and send a reminder. Keep sending reminders EVERY seven days, until you get paid. Yes, you’ll feel like an idiot. So what? This is strictly business.
If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, don’t worry too much about slow payers and no payers. Over the years I’ve worked with many, many businesses and publications, and I can count the times I wasn’t paid on the fingers of one hand.
You won’t come across no-payers often. They’re rare.
What’s more common is writers not charging enough, and burning out.
I beg you, charge appropriately. Here’s why: you’ll get much better clients. Great clients are wary of writers who charge too little. They’re after quality, and they know that you can’t create quality material if you’re charging a pittance.
2014 update: set up systems for your freelance writing business
Today it’s September 13, 2014. I’ve been coaching a couple of writers to set up a professional writing business. They had lots of questions about payment, so I’ve updated this article which I wrote a couple of years ago.
These days, you need to WRITE MORE, if only because there are many more opportunities available, and there’s money to be made. As you can see in my writing journal entries, I write a lot. I couldn’t keep track of it without spending time setting up systems, and getting and staying organized.
Lack of organization leads to stress, and paradoxically, you can eliminate lots of stress by writing more.
In this article, I said:
Although this seems counter-intuitive if you’re already stressed, you can eliminate a lot of anxiety by doing more. You’ll see this process in action on my writing journal. I have so much going on during the writing day that I don’t have time to be stressed.
If you’re concerned about crappy book reviews, and worrying about your current book – start another book. Back in the days when the bulk of my income came from magazine articles, I had so many queries doing the rounds that a rejection made zero impression. It just meant I had to get a revised copy of the query out to the next magazine on my list.
So, set up a system.
IMPORTANT: systems and workflows take time to set up. Moreover, you’ll always be tinkering with them. That’s as it should be.
In my writing journal entries, you’ll see that I’m constantly rearranging my schedule. You’ll get used to figuring out how long a project will take. At first, you’ll make errors. Something you thought would take three hours takes seven. I make scheduling errors too, all the time. Don’t worry about it, update your clients and rearrange your schedule. Keep moving forward.
A final tip: always, always send your client your agreement before you start writing
Most challenges with freelance cash flow occur because the writer isn’t marketing. Other challenges occur because the writer doesn’t have an agreement with the client on the scope of work (and what happens when the scope changes).
Additionally, you wouldn’t believe how many hassles with money occur simple because writers don’t send out invoices promptly. You invoice twice: once for the retainer, and the second time for the final payment. SEND OUT THOSE INVOICES!
if you’re a new freelance writer, I hope this article doesn’t scare you. You can go for months and even years without any freelance cash challenges. Put these tips to work for you, and you’ll never have a challenge you can’t handle.